Primitive reflexes

Primitive reflexes are the inborn software that helps us to assist in our own births and to survive the first months of life. They are automatic, stereotyped movements that protect and provide the basic training for our motor activity. They are vital for human survival as we learn to adapt to the new environment outside of the comfort of the womb in a gravity-based environment.

 

The movements help to develop and strengthen neuro-pathways between the brain and body before any substantial connections are formed and before the infant is able to make any willed or controlled directions from the cortex. When the primitive reflexes have not been fully utilized and live out their life cycles (integrated and inhibited) they then become stuck. The skills that they are designed to teach us will not become automatic and thus require continuous conscious effort, taking up the precious attention of the executive functioning of the cerebral cortex.

 

 

The presence of primitive reflexes beyond the normal age range (mostly before 12 months) will also hinder the development of the more sophisticated and important postural reflexes as well as the further maturation of the central nervous system. The primitive reflexes need to be “put to bed” and retire in the brainstem allowing higher brain functions to take the helm. They should only come back online if there is an insult to the brain in an accident or other forms of brain degenerative diseases.

 

 

Retained primitive reflexes can be the root cause of learning difficulties and behavioural issues in childhood, these problems can cause secondary neuroses later on in adulthood and manifest as anxiety, panic attacks, headaches, and insomnia. Often these adults meander through life with their neural dysfunctions undetected and unrecognized. Many cope with life without achieving their potential despite obvious talents and intellect. In some way like they are their own obstacles, unable to step out of their comfort zones because of the need for control (Moro Reflex/Fear Paralysis Response).

Palmer/Grasp Reflex

 

Landau Reflex

 

Postural reflexes

The postural reflexes are a set of more adult and sophisticated reflexes, responsible for handling many gross motor functions. They provide the basis and fluidity for the unconscious, automatic control of balance (vestibular system), posture (muscle tone), and movement (motor function/coordination). They come into existence in the 1st year of life from about 6 months of age and they need to be fully integrated and fully functioning in order to allow the primitive reflexes to be suppressed. The 2 sets of reflexes have a push and pull effect on each other, influencing each other and coexist at the same time during transitional stages. If the postural reflexes do not have enough strength to competently take over our motor functions in our gravity-based environment, the primitive reflexes will not be able to let go and thus remain active in the system.

 

 

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Learned motor functions are stored in the cerebellum (lower brain). They should become automatic, allowing the cortex (the executive command centre of the brain) to be free to handle all other more complexed tasks.

Segmental Rolling Reflex

What are the reasons for retained primitive reflexes?

It is thought that in 50% of the cases the reason is hereditary and may extend back to 4 generations. The following also contribute towards what is probably already a preexisting weakness of the central nervous system.

 

    PREGNANCY

  • Medical problems

  • Sickness

  • Injury requiring bed rest

  • Extreme emotional stress

  • Alcohol or drug use

 

 

 

    BIRTH

  • Difficulties in the birthing process

  • Vacuum or forceps delivery

  • Cesarean birth

  • Birth trauma

  • Prematurity

  • Breech presentation

  • Loss of oxygen / Low heart rate

A few examples of the primitive reflexes

     INFANCY

  • Was not given the time and space for natural motor developmental stages

  • Did not gain uprightness independently

  • Ear nose and throat problems

  • Restricted movement or space

  • Inadequate care from prime carers

  • Negative reaction to medications or vaccines

 

Symptoms if retained:

  • Over-reactive

  • Hyper or Hypo-sensitive

  • Hyperactive

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Visual-perception problems (stimulus bound)

  • Photosensitivity

  • Poor auditory discrimination

  • Poor impulse control

  • Emotional immaturity

  • Motion sickness

  • Poor Immune system (related to allergies, recurring ear, nose and throat problems as well as asthma & eczema)

  • Anxiety

  • Low self-esteem

  • Physical timidity

Moro reflex

 

Description: On startle, a baby will rapidly throw the arms out away from the body, with the hands open, accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. This is followed by a relaxing of the posture, the arms being brought in across the chest with the out-breath.

 

The Moro reflex enable the breathing mechanism to establish in utero and facilitates the first breath. It is essentially a reaction to a threat and can be seen as an early form of fight/flight response. Because a baby is unable to assess or react to save itself in this situation, it literally signals its need for help. A retained Moro reflex will cause the child to be in a constant state of over-stimulation, sensitizing it to sound, touch, movement, smell, changes in temperature and environment, light levels and diet.

 

Children with a retained Moro are constantly in a state of heightened arousal. They learn to cope with this mainly in 2 ways - flight or fight.

In flight, they are anxious, fearful of things, ‘internalised’ and socially independent with few or no friends. This child does not like change or new situations. 

The opposite type is in fight. They are over-excitable, aggressive, dominating and cannot read other peoples body language. 

Both of these types can be incredibly sensitive, perceptive and imaginative yet they often display immature behaviour and overreact in everyday situations.

Often they prefer the company of younger children or adults as they cannot grasp the concepts of peer interaction. 

In the classroom, the ‘Moro child’ may be disruptive, noisy, inattentive, distractible, unable to sit still or remain seated.

 

Lifespan: 9 weeks in utero to 4 months post birth

Tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR)

 

Description: When a baby’s head is tilted forward chin to chest, the arms and legs will flex, bending and folding into the body.

When the head is tilted back below the level of the spine, the limbs will stretch out and extend.

 

This reflex assists the birthing process and has a tonic influence over the whole body, straightening it out from a long period of gestation. is responsible for developing balance and coordination, muscle tone and proprioception as well as stimulating the later postural reflexes. 

 

A retained TLR reflex will trigger the vestibular system and therefore gravitation security is never truly acquired. The vestibular system also has connections to the visual, auditory, and motor control systems thus all these sensory systems are also affected. 

 

Lifespan: Forward-12 weeks in utero to 4 months post birth 

                Backwards- from birth to between 6 months -3.5 years

 

Symptoms if retained:

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Visual perception problems

  • Spatial problems

  • Poor sequencing skills 

  • Poor organisation skills

  • Poor sense of time

  • Motion sickness

  • Under or overdeveloped muscle tone

  • Poor posture

  • Physical timidity (dislike of sports)

  • Toe walking

 

 
 

Asymmetrical tonic neck reflex (ATNR)

 

Description: When a baby’s head is turned to the side, the jaw limbs (the side that the head is facing, arm and leg both) extend and the occipital (back of the head) limbs bend.

The ATNR reflex helps the baby to get comfortable in utero and is the cause of the kicking during pregnancy. It also stimulates muscle tone and the balance mechanisms in utero. It is crucial to the birthing process and neonate survival. An underdeveloped ATNR is thought to be a reason for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

 

A retained ATNR will have an effect on our balance and constant adjustments to postures need to be made in order to accomplish everyday tasks. This reflex is very much associated with school children as they are required to sit straight on at their desk and when reading and writing are the main tasks.

 

Lifespan: 18 weeks in utero to 6-11 months post birth

 

Symptoms if retained:

  • Poor balance and coordination

  • Poor hand-eye coordination

  • Difficulty in crossing the midline

  • inability to have smooth pursuit of eye tracking movement

  • Difficulty writing

  • Difficulty reading

  • Homolateral movement instead of cross patterned in activities such as walking and marching

Symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNR)

 

Description: When the baby is on all four and the head tilts up, the arms extend and the legs flexed. When the head points down, the arms will flex and legs will extend.

The STNR is not a true primitive reflex but only a transitional one. It is a follow on from the TLR and works on the labyrinth also. It helps to inhibit the TLR and its main function is to help build up the required muscle strength to get up onto hands and knees and must be integrated before the child is able to move forward to crawl. It breaks up the horizontal midline so that the upper and lower body can function independently.

 

The STNR also trains the eyes in accommodation, adjusting the vision from near to far and back again. 

The stage of crawling is significant for healthy development. It lends fluidity to our movement, teaching cross patterned movements for the body and midline crossing as well as hand-eye coordination for the eyes also. During this stage, the vestibular, proprioception and visual system all begin to cooperate with each other, working together for the 1st time. Other cognitive skills such as object permanence and space perception are also thought to emerge in this crucial stage.
 

Lifespan: emerges around 6-9 months after birth and should inhibit when the baby is around 9-11 months

 

Symptoms if retained:

  •                      Prevent proper crawling (may bear walk or bottom shuffle)

  • Poor posture

  • Poor body control"W" leg position when sitting on the floor.

  • Messy eating

  • Clumpsy child syndrome

  • Difficulty with attention and concentration

  • Swimming is difficult but better doing it underwater (gravity-free)

  • Difficulty with vertical tracking

  • Poor hand-eye coordination

  • Poor accommodation in vision (readjusting from near to far)

  • Slow at copying tasks

 

 

Spinal Galant Reflex

Description: When the baby's back is stroked down either side of the spine or in the lumbar region,  the hip on that side will flex or rotate. 


The spinal Galant reflex helps the infant to move down the birth canal. It also helps the baby urinate after birth. 

Lifespan: emerges 20 weeks in utero, it is present at birth and should inhibit 3 to 9 months post-birth

Symptoms if retained:

  • Fidgety, Hyper Activity, especially if clothes or chair brush their back.

  • If active down only one side it may cause scoliosis, rotated pelvis and lower back pain.

  • Poor concentration and short term memory 

  • Attention problems

  • Bedwetting long after potty training

  • Fidgeting, difficulty sitting still -“ants in the pants”

  • Posture problems

  • Hip rotation on one side when walking

  • Hypersensitivity to fabrics and labels 

 
Myelination

By the repetition of all these automatic stereotyped actions, neuro-pathways are formed connecting the billions of neurons. These tracks are then further consolidated by the process of myelination. Myelination is the formation of a myelin sheath around a nerve fibre. Myelin is the white fatty substance that insulates the nerve fibres preventing short-circuiting and allows for faster speed, we can compare this advantage with having access to fiberoptic rather than dial-up speed for our neuro-connections. This process provides us with better reaction time as we determine the correct instructions and responses to outer stimuli via our senses, it gives us voluntary control through our higher brain centres. This process of myelination is crucial in forming an efficient central nervous system and happens right in the early period of development before 2 years of age. 

 

Functioning with an immature central nervous system can result in issues with sensory perception (the ability to interpret information), cognition (the ability to process information) and expression (the ability to pass on the information received or to react accordingly).

 

Contact Moni to arrange for a free 30 mins phone discussion to see if this therapy is suitable for you or your child 

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